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Warwick Rowers: A weekend in Venice

Read about our Warwick rowers as they share their experience on participating in this year's Regata Storica in Venice:

Being the members of the university rowing team, we felt very honoured to be chosen to represent the university at the Regata Storica along the Grand Canal in the beautiful Venice. Our previous members had spoken highly of both the event and the hospitality of our hosts at Ca’ Foscari our expectations however, were well and truly exceeded.

We arrived on the Friday of the weekend of the events and were met by some student guides from Ca’ Foscari who helped us navigate the unique maze that is Venice. It was the first visit of Venice for nearly all of us and I believe I speak for all of us when saying that the beauty of the city is simply unrivalled. We then settled into our accommodation which was generously provided by the university and was fantastically located, only a two minute boat crossing to the hub of the city. After a small amount of sightseeing we then decided to rest up and prepare for the qualifying races the following day.

We began Saturday arriving at the Ca Foscari boathouse for 8:45 in order to practice for qualifying in the afternoon. We were greeted by both friendly student volunteers and Sergio, the university coach. Sergio watched our faces with glee as he unveiled the boats we would be racing in, 800kg dragon boats, they were beautiful vessels but quite different from the <100kg fine shells that we are used to racing in.

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We were joined in our practice session by Lausanne University who had actually arrived a couple of days earlier to get some extra training in, perhaps a wise move! While the motion of rowing in these ceremonial boats looked similar from the outside, once in control of the oar it was clear that we faced an uphill task to put together a crew to compete in the afternoon’s qualifying racing. We spent upwards of an hour in the warm autumn rain paddling up and down the southern coast of the Island of Giudecca before returning for lunch. We were then treated to an amazing Italian lunch of several courses with our hosts and the other competing universities.

It was after lunch that the draw for qualifying was made. Only one foreign university would make it to the final against the local Venice university team and we were drawn against the University of Vienna for our first race. We were then honoured to meet our pro chancellor Sir George Cox and his wife who had come to support us along with Chiara and her husband from the Warwick in Venice office. It was hugely uplifting to have home backing as we took to the water to race our Austrian competitors.
Unfortunately we were not able to overcome the choppy Venetian waters as well as our opponents who beat us by a small yet critical margin. We were dejected but also knew we had more speed to unleash for when we were to race along the Grand Canal the next day.

The generous hospitality of our host continued that evening as we were treated to a fantastic dinner and drinks reception at Ca Foscari Palace, certainly different to any views around our campus! Once again we had the privilege of the attendance of the pro chancellor and his wife, having been an incredibly successful rower himself, he kindly offered us some insight in preparation for the race to come.

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What did we do on Sunday morning?!?!
Sunday was race day, while exploring some of the sights in the morning we began to feel the excitement building for the racing in the evening. With people lining the canal to watch the racing of the gondoliers it was clear that there would be a unique atmosphere for our race. We had been given the opportunity to avenge our defeat to Vienna in the qualifying and faced them in the B Final.
Passing through the spectator stands on our way to the moored boats was our first proper experience of the scale and beauty of the event, the banks and overlooking buildings were packed full of spectators enjoying the programme of events. We rowed down to past our start line, the bustling Rialto, and waited for our race to be called to start.

The start is almost a blur and happened very quickly, it seemed no more than seconds between calmly floating and hurtling down one of the most iconic waterways in the world. Vienna had got off to a flying start, indicative of a well practiced crew before settling into an early lead. Despite this, we were not worried and counted on our fitness in the final parts of the race. Steered and encouraged by our coxswain, we began to close the gap between us and Vienna. With the finish line rapidly approaching we made even more progress and it was clear we had the speed over our Austrian counterparts. As the race ended it seemed like we had finished neck and neck. Exhausted, we looked around for any sign of who had won, no member of either crew had any idea of the result. As we reached the landing stage we were told that Vienna had won by no more than half a second and that our final surge had come too late.
Despite our second loss to the crew we felt that we had improved greatly from our qualifying race and had performed well. Furthermore we were incredibly grateful to have raced along a packed Grand Canal encouraging us all the way along the course.

We were once again treated to amazing post-race celebrations. Even though a second loss was not what we had envisaged, Sir George noted that there had been a clear improvement between our rowing during the qualifying race and the final. While a victory would have been preferable, it was good to know that we had made progress. Following the presentation ceremony we had further food and drink where we talked to the members of the other universities about how fantastic the weekend had been, it was certainly a weekend I shall not forget.

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On behalf of the club I would like to thank all of those people who made the trip possible and who provided such great hospitality. Special mention has to go to Sir George Cox for all of his support throughout our competition, Helen Johnson the International Office, Chiara and Martina in the Warwick in Venice office, Sergio the coach and all of those students at Venice who made the experience so memorable. Our trip to Venice was a truly unforgettable experience.
Beth Savage, Warwick Rowing Team